Diplomacy, Economy, Ideology, Military, Polity, Psychology, and Security

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Arthur A. Stein, Professor of Political Science, UCLA
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This past week, we once again had illustrations of a major aspect of social life: process matters.

There is a worldview that suggests that outcomes are all that matter. People make choices and the process by which they arrive at them does not matter. Outcome are then said to be process-independent. A high school senior’s choice of which college to attend should not depend on the sequence by which she opens the envelopes from the colleges to which she applied.

An alternative view of the world argues that process determines outcomes. Here, the critical feature is that people cannot evaluate all the options in the world and the one on which they settle will be driven by the sequence in which they were evaluated. A good example is buying a house. No one evaluates every house on the market but hones in on a set, begins a process and stops at some point. The outcome is process dependent.

These two perspectives are important and have many implications which I will not address here.

This week there were two examples in which process was crucial even though it did not affect the outcome.

The first example if that of DeAndre Jordan. He is a talented center on the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team and he was a free agent. Jordan pursued his options in free agency and decided to leave the Clippers and join the Dallas Mavericks. But the NBA provides a 9 day period, a moratorium, in which agreements can be negotiated but cannot be final. Having verbally agreed to a deal with Dallas, Jordan had a change of heart and decided at the last minute to re-sign with his old team. Jordan could, of course, have done that right away. But rather than decide on staying with the Clippers, he negotiated a tentative deal with another team and then at the last minute changed his mind. The outcome for him of re-signing with his old team would have been the same whether he did that initially or after a negotiated dalliance with another team. The story of his reversal is the stuff of comic opera which provided much fodder for sports journalists and fans.

But his reversal affects how he is viewed. The two worlds, the one in which he simply re-signs with the Clippers and the one in which he only does so after a change of heart, are not the same. The outcome of remaining a Clipper is the same for him, but little else.

A second example is that of Prime Minister Tsipras of Greece and his decisions about accepting the terms of other Eurozone nations for a Greek bailout. Having run for office opposing the austerity conditions which creditors insisted upon, he spent months railing against other European leaders and refusing to agree to the terms upon which they insisted for agreement. At the last minute, and past the deadline set for reaching agreement, he announced that a referendum would be held and that he would recommend that the Greek people vote down the austerity conditions demanded by the creditors. Those with whom he had been negotiating were angered and appalled at the unwillingness of an elected leader to take responsibility. Moreover, the Prime Minister argued that a no vote by Greeks would strengthen his hand in achieving an agreement. The people overwhelmingly voted down the austerity conditions upon which others were insisting.

But then, the Prime Minister put forward a new proposal in which he effectively accepted the austerity conditions that he had rejected a week before and which he had encouraged Greeks to reject in a referendum. The end result would have been completely comparable to that which would have occurred had he simply accepted the austerity conditions in the first place.

Here then are two worlds. One in which the Prime Minister accepts the austerity conditions demanded by creditors and one in which he rejects them, calls for a referendum, recommends that people reject the austerity conditions in the referendum, obtains the no vote he requested, and then accepts the austerity conditions anyway. Both worlds are the same: a Greek Prime Minister accepts the austerity conditions. But the process is completely different and enormously consequential. Among both Greeks and other Europeans, the Prime Minister has lost credibility and trust. Indeed, as I write this, it remains to be seen if the Europeans will accept the Prime Minister’s conversion. Their initial response to his acceptance of terms he had rejected a couple of days earlier was disbelief. They no longer trusted him nor found him credible, and many were insisting on early adoption of austerity and additional r steps simply to demonstrate credibility and commitment.

In both examples, only a couple of days passed before the change of heart, and it is hard to argue that there was some change in conditions that drove the shift in choice.

But the processes, the change of heart in each case, signaled something important about the actors, quite apart from the choice upon which they finally alighted.

People reveal something critical about themselves not just in the choices they make, but in the processes by which they arrive at them. The judgments being drawn about them are as consequential as their choices. The implications for their credibility and trustworthiness are immense. Sometimes, others preclude such reversals because of their assessments of the character demonstrated in the process.

[As posted at Rising BRICSAM. Note that the blog title was provided by the Rising BRICSAM host. As the editor notes at Rising Bricsam, I took part in the Harvard-Beida Conference earlier in the month that is referenced in other blog entries at Rising Bricsam. This missive is a reaction to the blog post, Looking at the ‘World’ With Two Lens, and the characterization of a new feature of international politics, the emergence of a two pole pan-Asian architecture.]

The disjuncture between economic and military structure is not a new phenomenon. The Cold War, certainly from the early 1960s on, consisted of military bipolarity and economic multipolarity (at a minimum, the end of the Bretton Woods order in the early 1970s signaled the end of US economic hegemony).

The post Cold War has seen military unipolarity and economic multipolarity. In each case, economic multipolarity has meant that there have been powers capable of exerting substantial economic power but not militarily capable of global power projection. In a sense, the current case of China is similar. China is a global economic power, with an economic impact that extends to every continent, but militarily only a regional one.

The critical difference today is the alignment pattern. In the past, the other centers of global economic influence were security allies of the US and dependent on the US for their military security. Now, China is not part of a US security sphere, and the concern is that it will have in its economic orbit states that have security links to the US. This raises a concern that did not exist in earlier periods, that of an economic power (China) that would use its economic leverage to achieve geo-strategic objectives antithetical to the US and its allies. The result could then be economic appeasement on the part of US allies.

One place to look for this consequence is the current financial troubles of the government of Vietnam. Will acceding to China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea be the price of a Chinese bailout of Vietnam?

[As posted at Rising BRICSAM. Note that the blog title was provided by the Rising BRICSAM host.]

The Colin Bradford piece in FP, “Seven New Laws of the G-20 Era”, Dan Drezner’s blog comment, “Learning to Embrace the Policy Deadlocks” and then Bradford’s rebuttal – again in FP – “Don’t Judge the G-20 by Its Summits,” and finally the Alexandroff retort in Rising BRICSAM “Punching Below Its Weight” strike me as eliding the crucial issue: is disagreement in a broader venue such as the G20 a problem for global governance, and especially economic governance?

The original Bradford piece argued that disagreement is not so bad. The G20 should not be judged by outcomes but as constituting a process and one that was broader and more diverse. The argument contains a core implicit argument – one never articulated, much less examined and substantiated. More on this below.

Drezner’s critique was largely focused on mass public reactions to G20 disagreements. Interesting, but tangential at best. Mass reaction would presumably be secondary to the concrete consequences of such disagreements.

The Alexandroff reaction to the Bradford-Drezner exchange is to focus on “effectiveness”, and this gets closest to the heart of the matter. He notes that disagreement is a feature of the G7/8 as well. Even the small number G set exhibits all kinds of “varieties of capitalism”: more or less corporatism; larger and smaller welfare states; more or less industrial policy. A substantial variety of types existed/exist even in that small club.

The core issue, then, is whether for the G8 or the G20 disagreement and divergence over policy options are preferable to agreement, coordination, and a concerted response. There is a small literature among economists about whether macroeconomic policy coordination makes things better or worse. Implicit in Bradford’s argument is that disagreement and its policy consequences are not so bad and, implicitly, to be preferred to agreement between a less diverse set of actors. Perhaps. But what is the evidence? Is that true for every policy? From the perspective of one of the world’s largest economies – California – dysfunctional politics does not seem so great.

All this reminds me of the argument about whether market failure or government failure is worse. Government action is often encouraged to deal with market failure. But government failure is also a problem. Is government failure a problem in global economic governance? Is the failure to coordinate and sustained disagreement preferable? That was certainly the argument of states that wanted to impose capital controls and thought the Washington consensus was wrong and that they should be free to experiment with a different policy. The acceptance of policy divergence and experimentation did mean that the experience of the global financial crisis of 2008 was not same everywhere.

So, whether the G20 works or not depends on: the issue, and what is required to deal with the particular problem.

1) It will depend on the nature of the disagreements, whether they are fundamental (about the desirability of markets), substantive (about how to deal with a specific problem), or distributional (about how to allocate the costs).

2) It will depend on how the parties respond to disagreement. Will the response be 20 separate uncoordinated responses to problems? Will the response to disagreement among the 20 be to form smaller clubs of agreement, say a G7 and a G13 set of separate responses but coordinated within each subset?

3) It will depend on time and the consequences of delay. One proposition: the larger the group the greater must be the crisis to generate a consensus response, and the greater the delay in responding to crises. The consequences of delay are also likely to vary. Note the national responses undertaken before the first G20 meeting was even held.

In short, the commentaries and blog posts are correctives. Yes, a stampede of lemmings is undesirable. Yes, disagreements can lead to better policy. There is an argument known in business schools as the “Abilene paradox” about the consequences of “mismanaged agreement” (the international relations literature refers to this as “groupthink”). So we should not respond in despair to disagreement. After all, bargaining occurs in situations of disagreement and it takes time to arrive at bargaining solutions, and initial disagreement and even stalemate do not preclude eventual agreement. But sometimes, available bargains are not struck and the even when they are, the costs of delay are enormous. Few international conferences result in an agreement at the first meeting and in immediate resolutions to problems. Yet many international conferences have resulted in breakdown, a failure to deal with underlying issues, and, in the national security sphere, as precursors to war.

One’s view of the consequences of disagreement will thus depend on one’s answer to some of the questions posed above and to the specific issues and experiences (not surprisingly, Pacific island nations fearing their disappearance have been the ones most urgently pressing for responses to global warming).

And a comparison with historical assessments of other institutions should make us wary both of snap judgments or even generic views. Think of NATO, and all the times people decried its disagreements, the problems in obtaining consensus, and the divergent assessments depending on the issue. I would guess the G-20 will look no different, assuming it has some successes.

[As posted at Rising BRICSAM]

The conversation about Rising BRICSAM is about changes in the hierarchy of international power and influence. It is interesting to think about the general factors that create changes in the size distributions of actors in competition.

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[As posted at Rising BRICSAM]

Alan’s post on Monday focused on the views of G8 members about the possibility of expanding their membership. This post was drafted before Alan’s and focuses instead on the G-8’s outreach efforts.

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[As posted at Rising BRICSAM]

In a previous post, I distinguished three bases for grouping countries. In this blog, I discuss the BRIC and its possible expansion to BRICSAM in that context.

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[As posted at Rising BRICSAM]

BRICSAM is being proffered as a new grouping of states. Alan has written a set of excellent blogs asking whether the BRICSAM states have comparable wealth and power positions and whether all the countries fit in the same category or class. What began as a Goldman Sachs grouping of BRICs was expanded by CIGI with the addition of SAM (South Africa, Mexico and somewhat more problematically ASEAN (in some form)).

The exercise raises the question of how groupings of states emerge and how categories of states develop in international politics.

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[As posted at Rising BRICSAM]

The conversation about BRICSAM takes place against the backdrop of assessments about the international system. And the problem is that there is an ever-present cottage industry extrapolating from short term dynamics to make sweeping generalizations about the course of history, and it is typically wrong. Put differently, we are experiencing yet another wave of declinism.

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